Venezuela’s National Elections Council has ruled that opponents of President Hugo Chavez have gathered the required number of signatures to hold a recall referendum. The opposition collected nearly two-and-a-half-million valid signatures -- more than the twenty percent of the electorate that is necessary to trigger a recall. The United States welcomes President Chavez’s acceptance of the ruling.
The recall is an important step toward a constitutional, democratic, and peaceful electoral solution of Venezuela's long-running political impasse. U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli says that the recall process shows the civic spirit of the Venezuelan people:
"It's the Venezuelan people that are moving to have this done. And the international community, as represented by Venezuela's neighbors, the O-A-S and the United States, are working to help the people of Venezuela realize their aspirations in a democratic and peaceful way."
Mr. Ereli says the Chavez government "has a special responsibility" to ensure that order and peace are maintained throughout this process and that the fundamental rights of the Venezuelan people are not infringed. Both Chavez supporters and opponents must adhere to a pledge that they made in February 2003 to refrain from violence and allow the exercise of free speech as the referendum goes forward.
As President George W. Bush says, the U.S. supports the rule of law in Venezuela. “We will work with the Organization of American States,” he says, “to help ensure the integrity of the presidential recall and referendum process under way in Venezuela.”